Graduate stories: Emma’s Teach First experience

Teach First is a charity that develops and supports teachers and leaders who are determined to make a difference where it’s needed the most.

We recently caught up with Emma Tollet, a French and Spanish UoB alumnus and 2020 Teach First Ambassador, to hear about her experience taking part in the Teach First Graduate Programme.

Emma, in her graduate gown, smiling outside Wills memorial Building

“I had always been passionate about languages and so studying French and Spanish was a no-brainer for me. I also became an active member of the University’s Ladies’ Lacrosse Club and became Social Secretary during my second year.

Being a member of the club meant that I took part in charity events such as fundraisers and coaching at local schools, and taking a leadership role within the club helped me to bolster my communication and organisation skills.

During my third year abroad, I split my time between studying in France and working in Spain; whilst both placements taught me valuable skills such as resilience and independence, the work placement in Spain allowed me to practise professionalism for the first time. In my final year, I became a course representative at the Student Voice Forum; here I used my organisation and communication skills to speak to fellow coursemates and lecturers to resolve any identified issues.

“I began to engage with the Careers Service when I was in my fourth year and thinking about my impending graduation.”

I did not know much about what was out there but I knew I wanted a career where I could directly use and improve my language skills, so I used the online services to research different industries. Eventually, I heard about Teach First through word of mouth from a friend who graduated in 2019 from Bristol. I was not sure about whether or not I wanted to be a teacher, but I used the Careers Service to research and eventually get in touch with Teach First.

I discovered how working as a teacher with Teach First would be a completely different experience to other grad schemes without limiting me to the profession; if I wanted to go into other industries after the two years of training, I could.

The Teach First logo

It was also a great opportunity to use my languages and some of the soft skills I learnt during my degree. I went along to a few Teach First events held at the university with the Careers Service and, once I received my offer, I met some fellow Bristol students who would also be doing the 2020 Summer Institute training programme with me.

After missing my final 4 months of teaching and graduating virtually in the summer of 2020, I began 6 weeks of online teacher training to prepare to enter my placement school in September. It is safe to say, however, that nothing could have prepared me for entering a school (for the first time) during the Covid-19 pandemic!

“It would be untrue to say that the first six months of teaching are easy”

I think it was one of the most challenging things I have ever done, especially given the challenging context of the pandemic. Despite the consistency of having a timetable, every day feels different in teaching and for that, you need buckets of resilience. I love being a French teacher and teaching the importance of communication and cultural awareness, as well as the nitty-gritty of grammar and pronunciation! But being a languages teacher nowadays is tough and requires patience (learning French is hard!), clear communication and high standards.

“These are some of the reasons why I fell in love with teaching and why I remain a teacher today after finishing the programme;”

Teach First provided the opportunity to hone the nascent skills that formed whilst studying at Bristol. However, the key reason why I remain a teacher is the children. Whilst it seems totally cliched, it is true! The children absolutely make the job what it is; they are funny, inspiring and so resilient despite any challenges they may face.

As such, my main piece of advice to anyone interested in getting into teaching with Teach First is to do some work experience with children, be it sports coaching, summer camps or observations in a school. If you don’t enjoy being around children then you definitely won’t enjoy being a teacher! The other thing I would suggest is to make the most of the support offered by Teach First – their services are excellent and they kept things very clear so there were no surprises along my journey.

I am proud of how far I have come as a teacher since I started and for persevering under challenging conditions. I have recently taken a career break to travel but I soon start a new job as a French teacher in London and I can’t wait to get back into the classroom!”

Feeling inspired by Emma’s experience? Find out more about Teach First and apply before the deadline on 23 March.

Jordan, a male student in a baseball cap smiles, confetti explodes around him

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